N SCALE SWITCHING PUZZLE
BANGOR & AROOSTOOK RR
NORTHERN MAINE SIDINGS




"...third boxcar, midnight train
destination Bangor, Maine..."
(from "King of the Road")

In the early morning rain, Bangor & Aroostook GP7 #60 passes through to Northern Maine Sidings


TRACKPLAN

The layout was planned right from the beginning as an Inglenook Sidings type of switching puzzle, with no changes to the classic track pattern.

The "five car capacity siding" is situated at the back, with the two "three car capacity sidings" nearer to the front edge of the baseboard. As the length of the baseboard used (80cm) didn't leave enough space for the capacity required for the approach track (loco plus three cars), this is accomplished by adding a piece of track on a simple, hinged wood base which folds downwards when the layout is not in use.

As with all switching puzzle layouts, the track plan is in many ways linked to the operation of the layout. In this case, the length of the three tracks adds a slight twist to the switching of cars: each track holds the number of cars as required by the original Inglenook Sidings rules, but with the added length to hold one 50ft car per siding when the capacity is fully used.

This gradually adds to the complexity of the switching, depending on whether one, two or three 50ft cars are used together with 40ft cars.

 

OPERATION

The operation of Northern Maine Sidings follows the Inglenook Sidings pattern where five of a total of eight cars on the layout need to be switched into a randomly determined order.

However, in a slight deviation from the original Inglenook track plan, the length of the three spurs beyond the uncoupling magnets was defined and built to hold the number of required cars but with an added length to hold one 50ft car per siding when the capacity is fully used.

Apart from the fact that having a few 50ft freight cars instead of just 40ft freight cars would be more in-keeping with the prototype, it would also add a slight twist to the operation of this switching puzzle. Depending on how many 50ft cars are used (one, two or even three), the complexity of the puzzle gradually increases.

This is of course due to the fact that if more than one 50ft freight car is moved to the same spur the capacity of this track decreases, leaving less manoeuvering space for switching moves. Looking, for example, at the longest spur, it is clear that this track can hold five 40ft boxcars and one 50ft boxcar..

Now let's imagine that the switching crew working Northern Maine Sidings today has left two 50ft cars on this track. However, as there are already three 40ft boxcars standing in that siding, the switching crew are forced to realise that there's not enough space left to leave the boxcars standing clear of the turnout, making it impossible to gain access to the other two sidings...

This adds an additional challenge to the switching problems posed by an Inglenook Sidings puzzle, especially when three (or more) pieces of rolling stock longer than the "standard" 40ft car are used. Planning switching moves then has to take into account that while it is possible to leave two 50ft cars on the same track, it means you'll have less room to move other cars about.



Bangor & Aroostook GP7 #60 (an Atlas N scale 2004 release) glistens in the sharp light of the early morning as it prepares to switch Northern Maine Sidings

Applying these "extended rules" also allows for a less uniform selection of freight cars. However, the decision to go for this variation of the Inglenook puzzle needs to be made before track laying unless the sidings can be lengthened at a later stage.

 

CONSTRUCTION

Because the layout's construction was the result of a sporadic rather than a constant process, it is broken up into steps rather than a systematic chronology.

STEP 1
Starting off with a "ready to run" baseboard

Before I got hooked on switching puzzles, I would assemble all layout baseboards myself, using the almost standard framing cut from 4'x1' (10cm x 2,5cm) timbers with a plywood top. The results invariably turned out to be very sturdy - and very heavy.

Then I came across the IKEA "Moppe" range of chests with drawers, which I found to be an ideal item for a shunting puzzle layout - not surprising if you consider the fact that shunting layouts often fall into the category of "shelf layouts". I had used the various flat chest models for layouts before, and this time opted for the model with two drawers, measuring 80cm x 28cm. Both the material (birch plywood) and the strength of the sheets of wood used are just what I would have used anyway.


(click for larger image)

However, just as I was going back to the drawing table for version 2 of this layout, IKEA discontinued their Moppe range in early 2004. As l wasn't happy with the way I had chopped up the Moppe baseboard from version 1 and IKEA was already sold out of Moppe chests, l had no alternative but to recycle one from an H0 module project which hadn't gotten anywhere. This explains why there is a "giant footprint" of a stretch of H0 track running along the front of the layout while still unscenicked, looking rather odd next to the finescale Peco N scale track...

 

STEP 2
Careful track planning

With an Inglenook layout as simple as this one, there's really not a lot of tracklaying that needs to be done, but all the more it should be done diligently. Not only to ensure trouble-free running, but also to make sure that the lengths of the sidings conform to the capacities needed toproperly set up and run the switching game. Before installing the cork sub-roadbed, I therefore temporarily laid out the track and, using cars to determine the true lengths, marked and then cut it.


(click for larger images)

An important part of getting the lengths of the tracks right is checking for clearances, taking into account that certain lengths of track around points are "collision areas". After all, the swithcing puzzle will only work if all the cars intended to go on one siding will fit there while completely within the "green" zone.

 

STEP 3
Track laying with ease

Relying on previous positive experience, my choice of track was Peco "Finescale" code 55. This is a unique product in that the rail is actually code 80 in height, but 0.025" of it is 'buried' in the tie strip, resulting in a track that appears to be code 55. The benefit besides a more scale appearance is that this track is very strong since it does not depend on the molded-on spike heads to hold the rail to the tie strip. Also, the spike heads on the inside of the rail are molded in low relief allowing adequate clearance for wheel flanges on all but the most primitive equipment.

The points (switches) are of the electrofrog variety, i.e. the frog is made of metal and conducts electricity. The polarity of the frog is determined by the direction the point rail is set, either to the mainline or the siding (this type of switch is also known as "power routing"), and to prevent short circuits power must only be applied to the points from the toe end. Nothing else is required on this layout, as all tracks running from the two points lead to a dead-end siding, reducing the necessary wiring to the most basic configuration.


(click for larger image)

Cork cut from tiles used for interior decorating and sold at DIY stores makes for an excellent sub-raodbed which provides a smooth and even surface for laying track and also has excellent noise-reduction qualities. The track is then pinned lightly to the cork (track pins could be removed once the track is ballasted to reduce noise even further if required). All in all, tracklaying was all over and done in less than 30 minutes.

As a switching puzzle, the layout is now fully operational.

 

STEP 4
Painting the track

Any make of model track really needs a coat of rust-coloured paint in order to better represent real railroad tracks. There are many different ways of doing this, but the simple approach of using a small brush to hand-paint the track with acrylic paint is more than adequate, using "rust" as the basic colour which is varied to produce different colour shades by adding differing amounts of black. These differences in track (and ballast) colour are fairly characteristic of yard tracks, showing e.g. signs of spillage in places.


(click for larger image)

Because the tracks will eventually be modelled as fairly overgrown, paint was slapped on fairly liberally. Once dry, any excess amount of paint will have flown out under the track, so you won't be left with "clogged up" track anyway. Point blades however are critical, as they can get stuck, so a more delicate approach around those parts of the track is highly advisable.

 

STEP 5
Scenery contours

The only scenic feature of this small layout is a slope on the right hand side which serves to provide a purpose for an overbridge which acts as a view blocking device to hide the tracks running off the layout. The basic contours of this are built up using foam inlays used for packaging (left).


(click for larger images)

As an added bonus, the uncoupling magnet for the Micro-Trains couplings is more or less hidden by the overbridge and cutting. The supporting walls are then lined with a foam inlay produced by Faller (actually it's a Z scale scenic accessory) which results in a nice stone finish (right). The track here is best ballasted at this stage while it is still fully accessible.

As a next step, the contours of the projected landscape are built up with layers of styrofoam (which, in this case, all came in the form of packing material). At the same time, the backdrop and side walls are added. These are not necessary and rather a matter of taste - I prefer to have them, as they give a nice "boxy" feel (a bit like defining the playing ground for the game to be played here) and also go a long way in protecting the layout and rolling stock when in use.


(click for larger images)

 

STEP 6
Ground cover & ballasting

With the scenic contours in place, a first layer of ground cover provides the basic "grassy ground scenery" on which the final and finer scenic elements will be placed. In this case, the use of two types of scatter material from the Woodland Scenics range (green and brownish) provides an amazing transformation of the general look - it's finally starting to look like a layout, even though much remains to be done.


(click for larger images)

This is also a good moment to get the ballasting of the tracks done if you're using the traditional method of gently spraying everything and then fixing it down with a mix of water and white glue - as this oozes out all over the place (as in fact it should, in order to make sure it bonds all it should) it might as well do it with ballast and ground cover at the same time (especially as the front track is supposed to be heavily overgrown with weeds).

Ballasting and ground cover are at an advanced stage here, but not ’ntirely completed, as a building is to be placed at the rear of the longest track, and the "footprint" for this is left clean at this stage. Once the structure will be in place, the remainder of the tracks will be ballasted and touched up.

more to come...

 

THE BANGOR & AROOSTOOK RR

The Bangor & Aroostook was incorporated in 1891 by a group of businessmen planning to build a standard gauge railroad from Brownville to Caribou with several branch lines. The railroad started out by first leasing and then acquiring the Bangor and Piscataquis RR and the Bangor and Katahdin RR. In 1893, the BAR ran trains to Houlton, reaching Caribou and Fort Fairfield one year later. By 1905, connections were made to Patten, Limestone, Ashland, Van Buren and Fort Kent. That same year the railroad extended to the deep water port of Searsport. Despite the company's name, its tracks never ran into Bangor and BAR trains only reached Bangor Union Station under an agreement with the Maine Central RR. The BAR's main interchange and terminal yard was constructed at Northern Maine Junction. The railroad completed its network in 1915 by bridging the St John River at Van Buren, thus creating a connection with the Canadian railways near St Leonard (New Brunswick).

In the 1950s, the BAR (or B&A, as it is known locally, even though this is the official abbreviation for the Boston & Albany) achieved a presence on the US rail network somewhat out of proportion to its actual size through its freight cars painted in the colourful "State of Maine Products" scheme. The cars were purchased to carry potatoes in winter and spring, but were leased out during the summer period as surplus stock to Pacific Fruit Express. As the demand on motive power went down accordingly, quite a few BAR locomotives found themselves running on Pennsylvania RR metals during the summertime too..

The BAR' was in good shape between 1935 and 1955, when the railroad recorded its highest passenger and freight figures and had a rewarding net income. With the incursion of automobiles and trucks, traffic started to drop, and the BAR slipped into decades of decline just the same as the whole railroad industry. Passenger trains (including "The Aroostook Flyer" and the "Potatoland Special") were discontinued in 1961, and the potato traffic dwindled until it was gone completely as it moved to the interstate.

Times were tough, and the railroad really needed to generate new traffic if it were to last much longer. In 1969, the Amoskeag Corporation of Boston bought the Bangor & Aroostook. Management headquarters were moved from Bangor to Northern Maine Junction, and new sources of freight were tapped. By the time the 1980s rolled around, the BAR had turned into a railroad focusing on transporting wood chips, paper products and lumber from the Ashland branch and mills in Madawaska, Millinocket and East Millinocket.


(click for larger image of stock certificate)

Business was already leaking away again when Iron Rail Railways bought the BAR in 1995, and debts mounted to the point where the company was forced into bankruptcy in 2001. The Bangor & Aroostook had served Northern Maine for 111 years when the flag finally fell in 2002. On October 8, the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maine approved the sale of substantially all the assets of the BAR to Rail World (lead by president Edward A. Burkhardt, former chairman, president and chief executive of Wisconsin Central Transportation Corp.), parent of the new operating company Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway LLC.

Aroostook county, by the way, takes its name from its most prominent river. It is a native Wabanaki word, understood to mean good river or beautiful river.

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The Bangor & Aroostook on the internet:

 

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Page created: 11/JUN/2003
Last revised: 27/APR/2005